Organisms adapt their behavior and physiology to environmental conditions through processes of phenotypic plasticity. In one well-studied example, the division of labor among worker honey bees involves a stereotyped yet plastic pattern of behavioral and physiological maturation. Early in life, workers perform brood care and other in-hive tasks and have large internal nutrient stores; later in life, they forage for nectar and pollen outside the hive and have small nutrient stores. The pace of maturation depends on colony conditions, and the environmental, physiological, and genomic mechanisms by which this occurs are being actively investigated. Here we review current knowledge of the mechanisms by which a key environmental variable, nutritional status, influences worker honey bee division of labor. These studies demonstrate that changes in individual nutritional status and conserved food-related molecular and hormonal pathways regulate the age at which individual bees begin to forage. We then outline ways in which systems biology approaches, enabled by the sequencing of the honey bee genome, will allow researchers to gain deeper insight into nutritional regulation of honey bee behavior, and phenotypic plasticity in general.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)566-576
Number of pages11
JournalWiley Interdisciplinary Reviews: Systems Biology and Medicine
Issue number5
StatePublished - Sep 2010

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine (miscellaneous)
  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology (miscellaneous)


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